Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Haitians Allegedly Attacked at Sea

Haitian survivors say they were left for dead

Survivors of a capsizing that killed at least 61 Haitian migrants said Thursday that crewmen aboard a Turks and Caicos patrol boat rammed them, towed them into deeper water and abandoned them after their vessel overturned.

''They just left us out there,'' said Dona Daniel, 23, one of a half-dozen survivors who were interviewed by The Associated Press immediately after being repatriated to Haiti from the nearby British territory. The other Haitians corroborated Daniel's account of the tragedy in the pre-dawn hours of last Friday.

They said their sailboat, loaded with an estimated 160 people, was minutes away from the shore of Providenciales, one of the Turks and Caicos Islands, when the patrol boat rammed them.

''When they hit us the first time, water rushed into the boat and everybody screamed,'' Daniel said, adding that the patrol boat crew ordered the migrants to lower their sails, threw them a line and began towing them into deeper water. The boat then capsized.

Lovderson Nacon, 19, said many of the migrants didn't know how to swim and were screaming ''God help me!'' in the darkness.

Migrants interviewed by AP said people who desperately tried to pull themselves aboard the Turks and Caicos patrol boat were beaten back with wooden batons.
Nacon said some migrants were run over by the patrol boat after they were flung into the shark-infested waters as their boat capsized.

He said he was in the water for more than 15 minutes before a smaller Turks and Caicos patrol boat came out to pull survivors from the water. Other migrants said they were in the water for more than 40 minutes as they waited for the rescue boat to make a return trip.

''They heard us screaming so much, they finally came and helped us,'' Nacon said. ``The people who knew how to swim lived. The people who didn't drowned.''

The Turks and Caicos government has said it will not comment on the capsizing until two investigations are completed. Britain's Foreign Office also declined to comment pending the investigations. One probe is being conducted by the local government, and three government experts from Britain are carrying out an independent investigation.

After being flown back to Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city, the migrants, wearing maroon T-shirts and athletic pants, were driven on a school bus to a gymnasium where about 100 relatives, many weeping, greeted them.

The relatives called out their loved ones' names, not sure if they had survived the worst disaster to hit Haitian migrants in years.

At United Nations headquarters in New York, spokeswoman Michele Montas earlier Thursday described the capsizing as ''a tragedy'' and said ''it could have been avoided.'' However Montas, a Haitian, said the U.N. had no further comment and that the issue was between the Turks and Caicos Islands and Haiti.

Jeanne Bernard Pierre, director-general of Haiti's National Migration Office, said Tuesday that the Haitian government would consider the ramming of a migrant boat to be a ''criminal'' act.

© 2007 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

No comments: